Physostegia virginiana  ‘Variegata’
Mark Dwyer

Physostegia virginiana ‘Variegata’

Departments - Green Guide

Consider bringing back this perennial for its long bloom period combined with bold foliage and its value to pollinators.

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Admittedly, I’m a sucker for anything variegated. My garden is a testament to this profound and continuing addiction. Interesting foliage can offer a lengthier contribution out in the garden in comparison to the limited duration of flowering interest. While a progression of bloom is welcome in our gardens, a crisp variegation can catch the eye and anchor a composition for months. Couple a sharp variegation with an amazingly long period of bloom, native origin, impressive durability and value for pollinators and you have the variegated obedient plant. Surprisingly, this selection is not easy to locate and the only hope of rescuing it from obscurity is to have more gardeners grow, appreciate, recommend, and seek out this amazing plant. This is one of my favorite perennials in general (not just for the variegation).

Planting obedient plant, a member of the Lamiaceae family, in the garden does raise some legitimate concerns about spreading. The joke still circulates that obedient plant is anything but “obedient” in the garden due to it absorbing more garden real estate at a steady pace. I’ve never regretted planting any obedient plants over the years and the combination of vigilance and commitment to a certain level of annual attention can keep this plant constrained. Varieties such as ‘Miss Manners’ and ‘Pink Manners’ are promoted as more constrained selections. It’s important to note that this variegated form is not inclined to spread quickly. I’ve been growing this plant for 20 years now and the spreading has been minimal and never fostered regrets in having planted it! Establishment and vigor are certainly affected by soil type and available moisture, but this plant is extremely adaptable. While preferring rich, moist soils, obedient plant can tolerate dry soils but really enjoys damp locations.

Preferring full sun or partial shade, this plant reaches a height of about 24 inches with the summer flowering height topping out at about 32 inches or so. The upright habit is quite nice although the lower stems can appear a bit leggy and benefit from some surrounding “skirting” plants. Any green reversions should be removed promptly. Cutting back the plant to 6 inches or so in June will result in a more compact, bushier habit and more numerous and stronger flower spikes. The variegation is sharp and pronounced over all the foliage and the pink flowers show well for many months. The flowers are easy to appreciate and bloom from the bottom of the spike upwards as the spikes continue to extend over the summer months. Observing pollinators visiting this plant is very common with frequent visitors to include bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Why grow Physostegia virginiana ‘Variegata’?

  • Bold and impactful variegated foliage
  • Long blooming
  • Significant pollinator value
  • Native species
  • Extremely cold hardy
  • Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Highly tolerant of urban pollution
  • Great cut flower

Mark Dwyer is currently the Garden Manager for the Edgerton (WI) Hospital Healing Garden after 21 years as Director of Horticulture at Rotary Botanical Gardens (Janesville, WI). He also operates Landscape Prescriptions by MD, a landscape design and consultation business. mcdwyer@zoho.com